Top 5 trend watching tips: Part 1 Know why you are tracking trends

22 03 2008

Top 5 trend watching tips

Even though we’re happy to provide you with more trends than you can swing a stick at, it’s equally important to hone your own trend watching skills. So let us share some tips and tricks with you; find out about the ‘why’ of trend spotting, the mindset required, the resources you need, the process of embedding them into your organization, and how to actually apply these trends. Good luck!

Know why you're tracking trends

Trend spotting can be fun. Makes you feel in the now and in the know. But that alone is not necessarily going to make you or your company more money. The way we see it, in a nutshell, is that tracking consumer trends is one way (and there are many ways!) to gain inspiration, helping you dream up profitable new goods, services and experiences for (and with) your customers. So trend watching should ultimately lead to profitable innovation.

Trend spotting as a profession has radically changed over the last five years or so. In a world that’s now fully connected, where thousands of smart professionals and amateurs are not only spotting, observing, thinking and innovating, but also putting their findings online for all to see, deliciously valuable resources are up for grabs.

Sure, this avalanche of trends, insights and new business ideas may cause information overload, but there is definitely an exciting innovation overload, too. The only thing that separates YOU— passionate CEO, marketer, entrepreneur—from being in the know is the time devoted to absorbing these sources, if not adding to them yourself. The world truly is your oyster. And yet, when we ask professionals if and how they spot trends and, more importantly, how they apply those trends to their own brands, we’re told they’re still having a hard time getting a handle on the basics.

So let’s quickly look at some definitions, misconceptions and practicalities before moving on to other tips:

What is a trend?

How about: “A statistically significant change in performance of measured data which is unlikely to be due to a random variation in the process.” That won’t get the creative juices going. So consider the following definition, which we came up with years ago and which still holds pretty well:

A manifestation of something that has unlocked or newly serviced an existing (and hardly ever changing) consumer need,* desire, want, or value.

At the core of this statement is the assumption that human beings, and thus consumers, don’t change that much. Their deep needs remain the same, yet can be unlocked or newly serviced. The ‘unlockers’ can be anything from changes in societal norms and values, to a breakthrough in technology, to a rise in prosperity.

Example? One of the core human needs is to be in control, or at least to have the illusion of being in control. No wonder then, that the online world is so addictive. After all, it firmly puts the individual in the driver’s seat.

Just give it a try: apply the above definition to your daily spottings and observations of how consumers behave, and how that behaviour is forever changing, and you will find that many seemingly unconnected business success stories will start to make sense. Successful innovations often satisfy existing, dormant needs in new and attractive ways.

* P.S. Need to brush up on your knowledge of human needs? Re-reading Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs never hurts.

Common misperceptions

It’s hard to find two people who share the same language when it comes to trend watching. Here are a few common misperceptions. Not complete by far, so add your own:

Karl Lagerfeldt

Predicting next year’s colours. Trend watching is about more than spotting the next colour, fabric or hot designer. Sure, black may be back, and miniskirts may re-conquer the catwalks in 2009, but the consumer arena is infinitely more complicated than that. In other words, fashion in all its variety, excitement, and pioneering business models is just another part of the world of consumer trends. In no way does it define consumer trends.

Crystal ball

Gazing into a crystal ball. Trend watching isn’t about ‘hard-core’ futurism, either. Better leave gazing into a crystal ball, predicting what’s going to happen 15 to 20 years from now, to futurists and scenario planning departments. Trend watching is about observing and understanding what’s already happening, the major and the minor, the mainstream and the fringe. In our case in the consumer and business arena.

Pizza cone

Declaring the pizza cone an emerging consumer trend. We still get asked a million times about how to distinguish between trends and fads. A pizza cone is a fun product, but it won’t dramatically change the consumer arena. At most, it’s yet another manifestation that consumers want convenience no matter what. The latter is the trend. The product isn’t.

Applying all trends to all people. Don’t fall for this one. One massive mistake both trend spotters and brands make all the time, is to assume or pretend that a certain consumer trend will affect or be embraced by ALL consumers. No. Remember, in life and in trends: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The above HSBC ad illustrates it well. Whatever catches your fancy while spotting and tracking trends, please remember that not everything applies to everyone, and that virtually every trend has its anti-trend.

Furthermore, the new doesn’t always kill the old. E-commerce may be booming, but real world retail is far from dead. Has the latter changed? Sure. But take one look at excited shoppers and TRYSUMERS spending hours in Apple’s flagship store in New York and it becomes clear that both online and offline retail have many years of innovation and opportunity ahead of them. In trends, always try to figure out what the ‘AND’ is, not just the ‘OR’, and your trend (and opportunity) spotting skills will improve immensely.

Those who watch trends have to possess some rare kind of intuition. Not true. This isn’t brain surgery, nor is it rocket science. Observing the world around you, with an open mind, is something many professionals have unlearned, but not something they aren’t born with. If you want to spot trends, you can.


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